New Catholic schools are most likely to open in London and the east of England if the cap on faith-based schools is lifted.
The highest levels of immigration from Catholic countries are to the capital and East Anglia – so the Catholic Education Service expects the demand for new faith schools will be most acute there.
Figures obtained by Schools Week show the capital already contains the most Catholic schools at which a majority of the pupils are Catholic, indicating the Church would seek to open more schools here.
About one fifth of English Catholic schools – 425 out of the nation’s 2,007 – have Catholic pupils at a rate of 90 per cent or more, but they cluster in London, which has 147.
The figures also show that almost 40 per cent of the schools where more than three-quarters of pupils are Catholic are in just four dioceses in the south-east: Westminster and Southwark in London, as well as Arundel and Brighton in Sussex, and Brentwood in Essex.
The small Catholic population in East Anglia has swelled in recent years due to arrivals from eastern Europe, driving up demands for faith schools.
Cities with Catholic heritage such as Liverpool are less likely to see faith schools expand, as there is comparative little new immigration to them. Liverpool has 23 schools where 90 per cent or more pupils are Catholic.
The Church is currently restricted on the number of free schools it can open because Canon Law prevents it from turning away Catholic pupils. However, the new education secretary Damian Hinds has said he will get rid of the 50-per-cent cap on faith-based admissions to oversubscribed free schools.
Plans to ditch the cap were announced in 2016, but were put on hold after last year’s general election. They’ve only resurfaced since Justine Greening was sacked as education secretary and replaced by Hinds, who was himself educated at a Catholic school.
Eighteen Catholic schools in England have no pupils of any other faith, the data shows – and campaigners against faith schools have blasted what they say is a lack of religious diversity.
Jay Harman, the education campaigns manager at Humanists UK, which opposes faith schools, said the revelation was “appalling”.
“A child should not be raised in a situation which leads them to conclude the whole country must be Catholic,” he said. “It distorts their view of diversity.”
The Church “can say they are ethnically diverse in a limited sense”, he added, but “religious diversity is just as important”.
Only two per cent of Catholic schools have 20 per cent or fewer pupils who share the faith.
But the CES spokesperson said Church schools educate more than 300,000 non-Catholics, and “are the most ethnically and socially diverse schools in the country”.
“What this data shows is it would be Catholic families who would inevitably lose out because of the 50-per-cent cap,” he said.